I have become increasingly more intrigued by ultra marathons this year. When I told a fellow runner and ultra marathoner/triathlete that I was considering an ultra marathon next year he told me he had the perfect race for me. Seth’s Fat Ass 50K is a local ultra in mid-December. However, it wasn’t quite what I envisioned when I thought about ultra running. Ultras are usually on trail. This was 10 loops of a well known 5K course at a local park. The thought of it was kind of mind numbing. Yet I was anxious to see if I was capable of running beyond the marathon distance and I preferred beginning with a 50K as opposed to a 50 miler.
The Fat Ass race was started in California in 1978 by Joe Oakes, an ultra marathoner who needed a qualifying race for the Western States 100. The first took place around New Year’s and the idea was to encourage people to shake off the holiday heaviness by getting off your “fat ass and move!” The race was no frills – “free entry, no medals or fan fare” and participants are free to run as little or as much of the race as they wish. Today there are about 25 Fat Ass races all over the country. Some take place before the holidays, some after; some are 50Ks, some 50 milers.
About 5 years ago Seth Roberts got tired of trekking up to North Adams, MA for the annual Fat Ass ultra so he decided to start one of his own in Springfield, MA. Much like the original Fat Ass races the registration form announces “No Prizes, No Wimps!” The race features one aid station with water, Gatorade and refreshments that you pass through at the end of each loop. You are welcome to leave your own gear and fuel as well.
The race began promptly at 8:30 a.m. The course starts with a short uphill climb. My B goal was to finish in the 7 hour time frame and my A goal was to finish in under 6 hours so the name of the game for me was slow and steady. I ran up the hill on the start then settled into a gentle pace. From there on in the aid station and the hill were the only parts of the course I walked.
After the first five loops it was a bit like being in that movie Groudhog Day. The repetition of the course was both a blessing and a curse. It gave you the advantage of knowing what to expect while simultaneously yielding boredom because it is a dull course to begin with. I dug deep into my thoughts, tuned out to my music, lip synched, wrote mental lists of things to be done before Christmas and zoned out. I also began to obsess about how many loops I had left. I started doing math in my head trying to figure out if I had to run up to 10 or go to 11 to make it 10 full loops (confused? me too!).
The temperature remained in the teens throughout the race. It snowed the entire time, mostly a light snowfall, but heavier towards the end. I wore new Under Armour waterproof running pants and sweatshirt both a lifesaver. I kept hand warmers inside my gloves and ear muffs on throughout the race. I never shed any layers, but what I wore was comfortable for the event.
I didn’t overanalyze the race prior to the start. I signed up at the very last minute once I was sure my schedule would allow it. I didn’t formally train. I did my best to maintain my level of fitness from the Montreal Marathon. To think about the distance was daunting, but I wanted to try it to see if I might possibly be able to handle a 50 miler someday. Once the decision was made to run the race I told myself that it was simply a really long run.
According to a local news article 115 runners registered for the race, but only 88 showed up at the start due to an imminent snow storm. Out of the 88 runners who started the race only 38 finished the race. I was one of those 38! It took me 5 hours and 40 minutes. The organizers, runner and volunteers were a supportive, enthusiastic and kind bunch of people. It was an awesome experience.
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re right.” – Henry Ford